The Pop Quiz, Monday, is a fun little exam that we love to give to savvy business owners. The examination is not a surprise, after all, since the interviewee already knew about the questions in advance. However, we can always pretend and have fun with the scenario of a young entrepreneur sitting in class nervously biting on their pencil. They are ready to take a pop quiz on a chapter that they were supposed to read the night before. Instead, they played Metroid all night on their SNES (Oops, this was me in high school). The real purpose of the pop quiz is that this is a fun way to introduce business tips from real-world experiences that you can not learn in a classroom. We want to thank our entrepreneur for being a good sport and volunteering their time to answer a few questions to help our community grow from their knowledge.
I want to introduce you to our guest today, who will be taking our Pop Quiz Monday.
Liz Sara, Chair of National Women’s Business Council.
1). Tell us about your business and what you do?
During my career, I’ve been involved in a number of technology startup companies. At the time, none of us thought of them as ‘startups’ because that label simply was not part of the business lexicon. We were merely working in companies that were new and doing very disruptive things. This was in the 80s and 90s during the very early days of the online world. Many people were completely unfamiliar with the idea of doing anything ‘online.’ My role was always in marketing, strategy, sales — the business side, not the technical side. I figured out the target customer, the price strategy, the sales model, and so on. I co-founded a company called SpaceWorks, which initially offered a platform for business information. I later pivoted that company into the exploding eCommerce sector in the late 90s. We built that company to $25 million with about 300 employees in just a few years. There were not many women founders in tech back then. After we sold it, I did marketing strategy consulting as an interim step until I decided on my next startup. That was in 2001. I founded Best Marketing LLC, and I’ve been doing marketing strategy ever since. My clients, nearly 100 companies, are all business to business software companies. I’ve helped launch products, grow revenue, and gain market traction for a lot of groundbreaking products that change business processes and job functions in very fundamental ways. Recently, I was appointed as the Chair of the National Women’s Business Council. It’s a federal advisory council with a unique focus on advocating for female founders across the country. Our mission is to provide recommendations to Congress, The White House, and the SBA on programs, actions, and legislative efforts that would help women start companies or grow the ones they launched. As Chair, I’ve picked three issues that we are tackling: access to capital, encouraging more women to start STEM-related companies, and eliminating obstacles facing women in rural communities. In December, we publish our annual report with recommendations in each of these areas.
2). Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?
I find that question funny because that word was never used in my early career. It simply never came up and was not part of the vocabulary at the time. So, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, nor did my peers. I did, however, know that I wanted to be part of this new wave of technology. I found it fascinating, and I wanted to apply my marketing expertise to these new innovations. Opportunities to be part of startups presented themselves, and I grabbed them. Each one was incredibly exciting because, in most cases, each one broke new ground. We were young and doing big things. It was thrilling.
3). What are the challenging aspects of running a business?
The list is long. And the challenges change as the company moves through its life cycle stages. Startups face uniquely different impediments than a $25 Million company, and that one faces obstacles that differ from a $100 million firm. Managing cash flow is probably the number one thing during the early stages of a company. It also takes longer than you think to get clients, and it always costs more money than you think to get them. Raising capital is probably the next challenge. Especially for female founders. That’s why we’re focusing on this at the National Women’s Business Council. We are recommending a federal tax credit for individuals (angel investors) that invest their own money in startups. I’ve been doing angel investing for several years. There are too few female founders that succeed in raising angel funds and too few female angel investors overall. Such a tax credit will enlarge the investor pool, and I believe will help women founders obtain that important seed capital.
4). What do you love most about your job?
Without hesitation, it is the variety of tech companies I work with as CEO of Best Marketing. Not only am I involved with uniquely different software innovations themselves, but the actual challenges they bring me in to solve differ greatly. I’m not always doing the same thing for each company. I may be changing the target market for one, adjusting the price model for another, creating completely new messaging for another, devising new solution offerings for another, and so on. No two clients are alike. It’s fantastic and mentally invigorating as a result. Every day is different. As the Chair of NWBC, it’s exhilarating to see how we are not just bringing the problems women business owners face to the light, but taking concrete steps to fix them through specific recommendations. I inaugurated a series of women business owner roundtables around the country this year. Each month, we’d hold one in a different city to hear first-hand from female founders and the supporting ecosystem partners of what needs to be fixed. As an entrepreneur, I will ensure this Council makes an impact. I’m thrilled that my Council members and the staff are energized to do that, too.
5). How do you have fun at work (team building, outings, etc.)?
I’ve found that when people share a meal together, it helps bond them to each other, and that helps build understanding and connection. I like having team lunches or breakfasts. When staff gets to know the people behind the roles, it fosters a more enjoyable work environment, especially when the pressure is on. I’m an Italian-American, so big family meals are an important part of our culture. And who doesn’t like to eat?
6). What would one piece of advice that you give to a new business owner?
Expect to work longer hours than you ever have before, so be sure the other aspects of your life are prepared for it. As a new founder, there is no 9 to 5. It’s more like being “on” or “on-call” at any time, on any day. If you are passionate about what you are doing, you won’t mind a bit. So, be sure you absolutely love what you do.
Thank you for taking our pop quiz today. You get an A+ for effort. You can learn more about our interviewee and their business by visiting them on the web: https://www.nwbc.gov/
Originally published at https://www.inboxdude.com on November 26, 2019.